Poll: Americans Not Planning for the Future

ByABC News
August 23, 2002, 9:29 PM

N E W   Y O R K, Aug. 26 -- When it comes to planning for the future, many Americans talk a good game but far fewer have taken specific action.

Seventy-two percent in an ABCNEWS poll say they're planning and preparing for life as they get older.

But when it comes to specifics the numbers fall sharply, with only around half saying they've prepared for emergency expenses, college tuition for kids or adequate retirement income.

And many lack a will, living will or health care proxy.

Varying Degrees of Preparation

Indeed, while seven in 10 say they've planned and prepared, only about half that number 35 percent of Americans say they've done "a great deal" to prepare for the future. That suggests that many have not taken substantive action.

Follow-ups confirm it: Barely over half, 52 percent, say they've planned and prepared for retirement income, or for emergency expenses like the loss of a job.

Fewer than half those with children under 18, 45 percent, have prepared for college expenses. And in each case only about a fifth say they've done "a great deal" of preparation.

In areas of specific action, 74 percent have life insurance, but far fewer 50 percent have a will, and fewer still, 42 percent, have a living will or health care proxy.

In a positive trend, the number of people who have a living will or health care proxy has grown sharply in recent years, from 17 percent in 1991 to 34 percent in 1999 and 41 percent now. The numbers who have a will, or have life insurance, have held steady.

Most Likely to Look Ahead

Income, naturally, is a very strong factor in many of these, with people who are better-off financially much more likely to say they've planned and prepared to deal with future expenses.

For example, among Americans with household incomes of more than $75,000 a year, 75 percent say they've planned for retirement expenses; among those with incomes less than $30,000 that dives to 26 percent.

Higher-income people are also much more likely to have life insurance, and somewhat more likely to have wills but no more apt to have living wills or health-care proxies.